Friday, February 8, 2008

An Idiot's Guide to Web 2.0.: Alan November's Presentation

Launa Schweizer, Head of Lower School at Poly, shared with the Technology Department her well-organized and informative notes from Alan November's presentation at NYSAIS Mohonk Division Heads Conference. Launa suggested to change the title of this blog entry to "An Idiot's Guide to Web 2.0."


First, think about our core values when making decisions about how to use technology. Any new idea that you try to “add” to your practices does not match our core values will not stick.

However, our mere unfamiliarity with technology should not hold us back, as there is a big world out there being created, and our students WILL be a part of it. It is our responsibility to give them the critical thinking skills to use it critically and effectively (the same responsibility we have when they use paintbrushes, pens, books, etc!)

As a leader, I have to help my teachers manage fear so that they can do this job!


  • Use “Alta Vista” to find text from another nation, (i.e. Turkey) using Host:tr (Want to know how to find this for other nations? Search “Country code” internet. On Google, it is “site:country code.”) To search text and find results that are truly Global, you can’t do a “regular” Google search – that will connect you mainly with US sources.
  • If you want to pull together the results of lots of blogs or news in one place, you use their “RSS feeds.” All the blogs can be pulled into one website. This is great for a class, a committee, or an organization that needs to operate from the same information. Once the students come to class, they have already read each other’s stuff. This is like connecting everybody’s bookbags!
  • Alan November has his own weblog (connects to people he has interviewed around the world). He then gets comments, emails, and he grows. What is a blog in an educational context? It is like the scaffolding we do for our students. A blog is a way to ask people to have a real conversation, then publish it so that you get feedback for the rest of your life… The work has “wings,” and learning does not stop with the graded product. For example, producing a podcast is not the “end,” educationally. You need commentary from around the world to help you make meaning.
  • SCREENCASTING: Jingproject (Free download for Macintosh or Windows.) Get a 12 year old to download it for you, and then come back and teach you how to use it. With this software, you launch any program you want. Then you launch Jing, pull it across the screen you want to capture, and start talking. Whatever you do on the screen ,while you talk, your voice is recorded to the clicks of your fingers. When you are done, Jing project gives you a free website. You click “publish,” and the video becomes a website. Also saves it to your hard drive. Can put it into “imovie” and add another movie to it. The free one is 5 minutes. You can buy “Camtasia” for 179.95$ which is unlimited, “professional level” is a similar, cheap tool ($69.50 per year) our kids can use to make the tutorial. Adobe also makes one called “Captivate” with high-end tools.
With this technology, the tech guy at your school (because he can’t be everywhere all the time) can also use this to capture the steps necessary to do basic things. (How do I retrieve my password, how do I use Jing?) The guy who runs the help desk makes an accurate movie of it, and emails that!

  • Podcasts, blogs, Googledocs, etc. all fit together. There are no books for how this all works. This is “the printing press” being invented!
  • The myth that “kids know more about technology” is false. They are using it more, perhaps, but the teachers know critical thinking. We should not be afraid to use technology.
  • “English is the language of the internet” (for business, etc.) In 15 years, China will be the largest English-speaking nation in the world.
  • The role of the teacher is not to provide information, but rather to ask provocative questions and to design exercises that sharpen your mind and give you skills (see: Socrates.)
  • The role of the teacher is also to build the intellectual scaffolding so that the students can make meaning.
  • Memorization should not be the end-point of any test or assessment. Now his tack is to have students bring the internet to the test, and to design assessments that require critical thought, research skills, and synthesis.
  • “Literacy” must now include research skills to help students to connect to new and rich sources as they make meaning: Technorati for the blogosphere;; websites in the global context.
  • For the first time, “a lot of the world knows that they are poor.” Then they find out that education is the way to get there. Our world (particularly the college-prep world) is about to change.
  • Don’t focus on the technology as you plan work with students or with your colleagues. Instead, focus on – what is the understanding you want to achieve that can translate to other domains?
  • Idea: have a team of students advising us (show them the tools. Get their views, before we talk with the teachers.) Do you want to podcast? Do you want to build a search engine?)
4 terms in technology:
  • DATA: Raw
  • INFORMATION: Data that has been refined into a readable form (Charts, etc)
  • KNOWLEDGE: The ability to take information and figure out what to do
  • WISDOM: Willingness to ask questions we have not asked before; paradigm shift; systems redesign.

We would like children, whenever possible, to get to the knowledge level: to apply what they have been taught, out of school. Knowledge means transferring information to a new context.

DESIGN IDEAS for any tech-based assignment:
  • You have to talk to somebody “on the ground.”
  • The work should “live beyond the grade” (in a blog).
  • You have a feedback loop (responses to the blog).
  • Students work in high-performing work teams. Organizing many students doing many given tasks. Discipline and organization to work with others. Everyone gets every job in a rotation.
  • The product makes a contribution to everyone in class (the children can get the weekly podcast, notes, or “how-to” application.)
  • It should be a gift to the world: designing something that people can use.


In Alan November’s classroom world, students are involved in making meaning in a class. There are SIX JOBS assigned everyday in every class, jobs that pass along some crucial responsibilities and engage students more fully:

Internet researcher of the day (anytime there is a question, that person answers it and puts it in a search engine for that class.) What’s the change? THE TEACHER DOES NOT ANSWER FACTUAL QUESTIONS, but the teacher does know a lot about CRITICAL THINKING. Instead, therefore, the teacher is teaching research skills and empowering kids to answer their own questions. Involves a shift in control, and teaches good research technique.

Tutorial design team for most important skills. (Teacher guides) You have to do homework anyway, so you might as well have them create a tutorial that all the children can look at. (The teacher supports the team to breaks it down a problem into small units, and this helps kids to understand.) Put all the tutorials on a DVD so the kids can take it home. The teacher OK’s the “best one” to provide to the class. “Screencast” is the tool our students can use to make the tutorial (see above for more information on this.)

Scribe team: the teacher asks students to take notes on particular topics that he or she knows is important. These “Editors” take notes, including webresources that are strongly connected to what is being discussed in class. To do this, use a tool called “Googledocs” which you find on igoogle, under “more.” It’s a “wiki,” for shared writing. In this method, different kids take notes on different topics. As a group, the kids are pulling together information from the web on topics that are being discussed. Through “Googledocs” we as teachers can see how the revisions of the notes progress. Notes can be assembled on one powerpoint or on a central word document. Hitting the “revisions” button helps us as teachers to know who thought/wrote what. He also finds that the notes actually EVOLVE after class.

The team dedicated to adding to a class-wide search engine tailored to your group’s needs (Again, we find this application on Google: under “More” is “even more”) A variety of contributors (up to 100) can continue to add new sites into one search engine. Tell the kids, at the start of the year, we are going to build a search engine, by adding, to the search engine, new sources and websites. This can last into the next year, and alumni contribute even later! Now students are not just using search engines, but building them! (See below for a great idea on how elementary schools can use this to create safe search engines for young kids.

Global Communication Team builds community around the world by finding people across the world interested in the topic at hand. The students are responsible for finding people thinking about the same thing in other parts of the world. (using alta vista, the country code.) Type in, on alta vista, the topic, plus code (“ac” means academic.) You have to teach the kids how to search for a nation; then how to find university professors around the world. The students then use google docs to write emails to professors around the world, and you use SKYPE, which is free software that lets you make a call anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. This team then builds a network of people (University professors around the world, for example) you can talk with. This globalizes the curriculum.


• Create an assignment to go to a Blog and interact with a political commentator. Then, ask the students themselves to create a “balanced” blog using at least three sources. Use SKYPE to interview journalists in other countries. Put those podcasts in itunes, so that anybody in the world searching for your topic in itunes will find it… the responses will go on forward into time, and the students will continue learning beyond the grade. Important to have students build a “balanced blog” to represent the issue (three sources are important.)

• Have students listen/monitor different podcasts

• A good lesson students can learn from seeing the differing points of view available on the internet: The intention of words is not the same as their impact. This is as valid at the level of the Pentagon as it is at the level of first grade!

• Find something that doesn’t have a wikipedia entry, and write an entry for it to be submitted to the largest encyclopedia in the world. Teachers can then click on the “History tab,” which shows how this has evolved. The children can put in very simple content, starting with what they know. Then, as people continue to rewrite it; the teacher can set up the “RSS feed” so that while the wikipedia entry evolves, the kids can reflect on what the third graders have started. (It’s important for an elementary school teacher to have an account with Wikipedia so that any content added is not connected to the children’s names or the school.) Wikis (like wikipedia, or the technology behind Google docs) are not going away. We need to teach kids how to use them.

• Since students are going to “blog anyway,” we as teachers should give them a “blog for life” that will connect them to our learning environment first.

• The question is not: will the kids use these tools; rather, how do we teach them to use them safely and well? We should attack the problem of teachnology, use it well, give students rigor and skills!

• We can’t allow fear to be the deciding factor of how we use technology. Instead, we need to show students the impact of their choices. (Often, we keep kids off of the internet because we are afraid they will be targeted by adults they do not know. However, statistically, the problem for kids and technology is not kids being taken advantage of by adults. Instead, it is kids taking advantage of other kids. This is an issue that Alan has studied.)

• It’s also possible for a teacher to teach kids “levels” of communication. When a teacher creates content (video, picture, etc.) that teacher (or student, or writer) can choose a level of interaction. We need to teach children: when do you publish for yourself (like a diary) and when do you publish for the world? The child needs to learn when to push the “right button.”

• Kindergarten assignment: Install SKYPE on the classroom computer, then give the Irish grandmother SKYPE so that she can read a Irish children’s book in her accent! Capture the reading using screencasting, and make a DVD. Then, send books to all the other grandparents! In fact, use SKYPE to make every day Grandparent Day – each child’s grandparent reads a book, or do something “live” in class everyday. Have them tell the stories of their lives!

• ELEMENTARY FACULTY can build a Google custom search engine (only the websites our faculty put together, and the kids can use those, rather than Google!) Parents would be so grateful, and we would feel safe having kids search it!

• At the elementary school level, we can use technology to reinforce what students are learning. For example, in one class, every Monday at snack, the children produce a podcast summarizing and reviewing what they learned last week. Every class should produce, created by kids in a high-performing work team, a podcast reviewing what they have learned. You just need an MP3 player with a microphone. (!)The teacher gets it started, and the child wants to put out her own show about Art. Another wants to talk about writing, etc. Developmentally, children need to feel that they are making a contribution. Sense of ownership. A podcast can also expand the family’s involvement in curriculum as well!

Want to see examples?
Try also, which shows a student tutorial of a skill that he has learned. (The program where they solved the math problem is called “Screencasting”) In class, the teacher keeps this on the corner of the screen, and “just do it.”) These screencasts can be sent as an email.


Here’s a fun lesson!
Teacher: “Have you heard of Myspace?”
(Kids look at you as though you are an idiot.)
Well, you know – one day, you might run for congress, etc. this won’t be good to put stuff up.
Show the students a “dead link” (through
In the “WaybackMachine,” you can discover the content – when it came on the web, when it left the web, and you can get the content (even though it has been gone for ten years.) This is true no matter how long the content has been off the internet.
The internet is being stored, in its entirety, every few months.

Another important caveat for this lesson: The copyright at bottom of the page is Myspace – any music and art you put up there, you don’t own it. Those who put work on Myspace have lost all the intellectual rights to their work, and Myspace sells this content (to be searched by their future employers) to big companies.

Facebook owns all that content – facebook sells content to big companies. They have no rights to their “own” content.

The payoff of the lesson? Kid raises his hand – “You’re trying to tell us not to ruin the rest of our lives today.”

Our Lesson?


Questions: How do you retain your intellectual property rights to things you put on a blog?

Answer: Copyright it first independently. Write a draft on your own, copyright it, then put it up.


The notes from NYSAIS Mohonk Division Heads Conference are printed with the permission from Launa Schweizer. Feburary 1, 2008.


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